Eat IN BED: Bistro Livi
Opening Bistro Livi felt like a natural progression for the three behind this neighbourhood bistro. Co-owners and sisters, Nikky and Danni Wilson, and head chef Ewen Crawford, grew up with families who adored food, and perhaps for each of them, this is what sparked a life in food, but also the understanding that food is about something deeper than the plate that’s put down in front of you. Of course there’s great thought, skill and joy behind the plates being served and the glasses being poured at Livi, but for this trio, when it came time to open their own space, it was about something greater than the food and drink; it was about creating an environment where staff felt nurtured and customers felt welcomed; it was about building relationships with producers and growers in their Northern Rivers region; it was about creating a way of life in food that was sustainable for them and their staff. Two years into it and they’ve built something rather special.
We visit Nikky, Danni and Ewen in their art deco space and speak with them about their journey to opening Bistro Livi, and what drives, inspires and informs as they head into their third year. Perhaps your summer will allow for a pop into this Northern Rivers diner (lucky you), but if not, the team have kindly shared a recipe for their Boon Luck Farm saffron peaches and cream so you can recreate a taste of their magic from wherever you’re spending the warm and slow months that lie ahead. Joy.
Georgia wears IN BED 100% Linen Apron in Navy Gingham
On where a love for food started …
Danni: We all had a similar childhood experience in that we grew up with families who adored food. Nikky and I were spoiled by having European grandparents; our grandmother was an incredible cook, influenced by her upbringing in Morocco and France. We both have extremely fond memories of long and slow lunches outside with her and our grandfather.
Ewen: I grew up on the south coast of Western Australia, surrounded by wonderful produce. My father was an eager cook, he would snap up herring and smoke them in the summertime down at the beach, and would often catch blue swimmer crabs in the harbour.
On opening Bistro Livi …
E: It felt like a natural progression for the three of us. After working at various venues, including MoVida, for such a long time, the desire to do something on your own becomes strong. We really wanted to have a crack and do the food, booze and service in our own style. The Northern Rivers has beautiful produce, and probably at the time we were thinking there was a gap in the market for a quality neighbourhood bistro. We had a few roots here already, which made it easier to take the plunge.
On who has had the greatest influence on Ewan’s approach to food …
E: Clearly, for me, Frank Camorra [of MoVida] has had the biggest influence on my cooking style. Matt Germanchis of Captain Moonlite also helped me a lot in my early career as a chef. Both Frank and Matt taught me the value and importance of using the best ingredients, and the beauty of simplicity.
On what has inspired the service side of Livi …
Nikky: Inner-city hospitality, we feel, is taken seriously, that's why Melbourne dining in general has always excited us and inspired our style of service. It has been exciting to bring this to a more regional setting. Bar Liberty in Fitzroy is a particular standout for us – always warm, welcoming, knowledgeable and fun!
On what became a core value of Livi in the opening of their own space …
Nikky: Authenticity. We also wanted to create an environment where our staff felt nurtured, and our customers felt welcomed. And of course, we wanted it to be fun, for us and for our customers.
On what the food of Bistro Livi is all about …
"Livi is about simplicity; it’s about sourcing the best ingredients we can find and treating them with care. Lots of seafood!"
On the space …
D: We were fortunate to work alongside Melbourne-based interior designers, Flack Studio. Our aim was to create a space that encapsulated warmth. The space boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, green leather banquets, beautiful Arrotato handmade terracotta tiles and flooring. During the design process we knew straight away that we had our heart set on the very the alluring Pitt & Giblin speakers, handcrafted by two young makers in Tasmania – definitely our favourite part about the space.
On the biggest challenge in opening a restaurant …
N: One of the biggest challenges, for us, is keeping positive momentum when it’s quiet. We take motivation from each other, whomever is feeling energetic. Reading books to stay inspired, finding new producers and tasting new products keeps us going and keeps us excited about what we’re doing.
"One of the biggest challenges, for us, is keeping positive momentum when it’s quiet. We take motivation from each other, whomever is feeling energetic.."
On working as a team of three …
E: I guess this is another challenge of running a small restaurant, communicating and all being on the same page to move forward. We all have quite different personalities and style, but we talk a lot, and that keeps the ship on course.
On what drives day in and day out …
E: We are constantly driven by our want for our customers to have a great time. We are driven to find new produce, to keep our staff engaged and constantly learning. We are driven because we are proud of Bistro Livi and all that we have created in the last two years. The physical challenge is nothing compared to the constant mental battle of ‘is it good enough?’.
On recharging on days off …
D: Lots of ocean swims, walks and pilates.
"We are constantly driven by our want for our customers to have a great time. We are driven to find new produce, to keep our staff engaged and constantly learning."
On the importance of sourcing quality produce and developing relationships with producers …
E: It’s an ongoing process, we are always on the hunt for quality producers. We have made some really great connections in the last couple of years, and have also tapped into some established relationships with suppliers from previous restaurants we’ve work in. In particular, up here, Summit Organics and Boon Luck Farm have been fantastic. When the raw ingredients are of top quality, we don’t have to do too much to it, and that’s the style of food that excites us.
"When the raw ingredients are of top quality, we don’t have to do too much to it, and that’s the style of food that excites us."
On what’s thrilling produce-wise as we dive into summer …
D: We are very excited about Wapengo Rocks from Wild Organic Oysters. Owner Shane Buckley specialises in wild caught, organic rock oysters and they are delicious! At the moment, we’re serving them with a brown rice vinegar mignonette.
On a shift towards a more balanced, sustainable culture in kitchens …
E: That old-style kitchen culture is not a sustainable way to live and work and I do think we’re seeing a shift away from it. We’ve structured our weeks to have four days on three days off, so there is a chance to have interests and hobbies outside of work. It keeps us fresh and wanting to go back. I believe rosters where people can fit other interests and activities into their day are really important; split days off and the 15-hour double shifts are outdated. Staff also need to be paid correctly for the time they work, not overworked on a fixed salary. Maybe adjusting these things will help return a sense of balance to this line of work, and to the industry.
"That old-style kitchen culture is not a sustainable way to live and work and I do think we’re seeing a shift away from it."
On advice for someone considering a life in food …
E: A life in food is definitely not easy, it’s all encompassing so you have to love it wholeheartedly. The reward is meeting and working with great people, drinking delicious booze and eating great food. What's not to love?
On a day off aperitivo …
D: Always anchovies and a glass of sherry!
"A life in food is definitely not easy, it’s all encompassing so you have to love it wholeheartedly. The reward is meeting and working with great people, drinking delicious booze and eating great food. What's not to love?"
And to finish, a few ‘faves’
Favourite kitchen tool: Tiger rice cooker and a hibachi grill
Favourite food book: Richard Olney’s Simple French Food
Favourite food person: Madhur Jaffrey
Herb: Flat leaf parsley
Place to perch for a glass and a snack in the Northern Rivers right now:
Bar Evelyn for delicious pizza, La Casita for a Tommy’s Margarita and a fish taco and The Eltham for a schooner or two.
Boon luck Farm Saffron Peaches & Cream
Boon luck Farm Saffron Peaches & Cream
This is a perfect, simple summer dessert. We use beautiful donut peaches from local grower, Boon Luck Farm – use the best peaches you can get your hands on. You’ll need to do the clotted cream the day before serving to give it time to chill in the fridge.
250 ml water
250 ml white wine
500 g castor sugar
2 star anise
2 cinnamon quill
A good pinch of quality saffron
1 vanilla pod
4 small peaches
1. For the syrup, place all the ingredients, except for the peaches, into a saucepan and bring to a boil before reducing the heat and leaving to simmer for five minutes.
2. Bring a pot of water to the boil then blanch the peaches for 20 seconds. Remove them from the water and leave to cool. Once they’re cool enough to handle, peel off their skins, gently cut each one in half and remove the seed. Lay the peach halves on a tray.
3. Bring the syrup back up to a boil and let it reduce until there’s just enough syrup to cover the peaches. Pour the syrup over the peaches and leave to cool.
750 ml pouring cream
30 g unsalted butter
1. Put the cream and butter in a large, wide heavy-based saucepan and place over a low to medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it reaches a simmer. Be careful not to let it boil over, and continue to stir to prevent the cream from catching on the bottom. Continue cooking until the cream has reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
2. Pour the reduced liquid into a shallow dish, the more surface area the better. Let it cool then cover the dish and leave it to chill and set in the fridge overnight.
3. To serve, place two peaches, halved, into a bowl and top with a spoonful of clotted cream.